By Dave Woods
Digital market development manager
BRANSON, Mo. —
Brandon Mabe said he’s been blessed.
“It’s pretty special,” said Brandon, who performs during the Baldknobbers Jamboree Christmas Show through Dec. 29. “Not many people get to lead our kind of life. It’s fast-paced, but at the same time, we get to be with our family and extended family. Many of them have been on stage longer than me and Denton have been alive.”
Brandon, co-frontman Denton, female vocalist Joy Bilyeu and more than a dozen other Mabe family members and longtime friends entertain thousands of theatergoers weekly. Not only do they play country music and share Ozarks comedy, they dig into stirring vocals, run theater operations, serve up popcorn, manage theater parking and produce what is commonly known as Branson’s first music show.
The 29-year-old, third-generation entertainer joked that he has done every job at the theater except run the sound.
“It’s incredibly neat to me, being out on stage with my cousins,” Brandon said. “So many of the regular folks that come to the show remember us as little rascals running around backstage and causing problems.”
The Baldknobbers were inducted into the Smithsonian Institute and recognized for their cultural contribution.
The show originally debuted in 1959 in a refurbished skating rink in downtown Branson. Brandon’s grandfather, Jim, and his brothers, Lyle, Bill and Bob, filled out the group. They began performing along the shores of Lake Taneycomo more than 50 years ago.
Visitors from across the country Ñ including many from the Joplin area Ñ trekked to the Branson lakes area to hunt, fish, camp and to catch a Mabe Brothers music show. The brothers eventually moved to a modern theater on Highway 76.
Today’s Baldknobbers Jamboree Show is a far cry from its early roots. The original Mabe brothers passed on their family traditions and talent to their children. In turn, following generations continue to pass on the clan’s commitment to family-friendly entertainment. A fourth generation of Mabe entertainers is in the making.
“Denton has a boy, Phoenix, and I have four children,” Brandon said. “My sister has two children. Garret, Denton’s brother, has a child, and there are a lot of the fourth generation coming up.”
“The first half of the holiday show features the best of 2012. The second half is devoted to an all-new Christmas show,” Brandon said. “We have comedy routines and a lot of fun, and also have the sacred side to express the true meaning of Christmas.”
Brandon thinks sticking close to tradition is key to the Baldknobbers’ success.
“The value of family, God and country is what my grandparents and great uncles started,” he said. “Branson is a family-oriented area. It’s grown with different shows and kinds of entertainers coming into town. If we stick with a good, down-home country feel and down-home fun, we’re good. “
He is quick to separate Branson from other vacation destinations.
“We’re not Vegas, and we’re not Broadway,” he said. “We’ve got good clean entertainment for the whole family to enjoy. I want people to remember that. If we stay true to our values that Branson started with and that we grew up in, and it leaves Branson with a good name, it will stay on the map.”
The third generation of Mabe family members enjoy sharing the stage together, Brandon said.
“We are best buds as well as cousins,” he said. “It’s really special. We have six family members on stage, out of a cast of 17. We’re pretty much Mabe family dominant.”
To make it into the show a Mabe still has to have talent.
“The No. 1 thing is that you have got to be able to entertain,” Brandon said. “You can be the best singer in the world, but if you can’t entertain, nobody wants to see you stand up there like a bump on a log. You’ve just got an amazing talent.”
To make it in Branson for more than 50 years takes talent, patience, hard work and the ability to have a little fun, Brandon said.
“It’s all about having fun and entertaining,” he said. “Entertaining is what it’s all about. That’s what gives the audience the experience and fun they get. Not just vocals and music and comedy. It’s the collaboration of all of them that makes it the entertaining show it is.”